Batman and Green Arrow square off against the Joker’s gang of super-villains

If you think about it, the character of Batman and his mythos have been remarkably versatile since making his debut in 1939. The iconic superhero has appeared in every medium possible and succeeded in just about all of them. Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem is the latest animated feature from DC Comics and WB Animation. Less violent and without the edge of their more daring output like Justice League: Gods and Monsters, the unrated movie aims at a slightly younger target audience. Filled with humor and loads of superhero action, Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem is a fun ride with breathless pacing.

This is actually the second film loosely set in the Batman Unlimited Continuity, after Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts. Apparently Batman Unlimited operates as an unofficial prequel to the fantastic Batman Beyond cartoon series. Batman Beyond was set in the chronological future of the DC Animated Universe in a futuristic Gotham City where an elderly Bruce Wayne had retired as Batman.

The Batman Unlimited films feature a young and healthy Bruce Wayne fighting crime as Batman in the era before his Batman Beyond years. This Gotham City is still futuristic in scope, crossing the design of Blade Runner with an ultra-clean Times Square. It’s a unique take on the superhero and his mythos that still pays respect to the character. Traditional fans of the hero don’t have to worry about this movie straying too far from the iconic elements of the franchise. The Batmobile, the Batcave, Alfred and so on are all included in Batman Unlimited in very familiar forms.

Befitting a straightforward comic book adventure, the story is refreshingly simple. Batman and several other heroes (Green Arrow, Nightwing, Red Robin, and Cyborg) have to deal with a gang of super-villains threatening to take over Gotham led by the Joker. Included in the Joker’s motley crew are a deliciously diverse line-up of DC villains: Scarecrow, Clayface, Silver Banshee (voiced by Kari Wuhrer!) and my favorite of the bunch, Solomon Grundy. It’s an eclectic bunch that hearkens back to the Super Friends.

Silver Banshee is usually associated with Superman and Solomon Grundy rarely crosses Batman’s path. The cross-pollination of mixing different superheroes with different super-villains has always been a winning formula in comic books. It works again in Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem to great success. Solomon Grundy practically steals the show with his role as the dumb muscle in Joker’s gang.

While Mark Hamill doesn’t voice the Joker in this movie, the voice actor playing the role does a good imitation of his Joker voice from Batman: The Animated Series. The character designs are all a little awkward but generally based on each character’s classic appearance. It’s a light superhero adventure with some laughs. It features a big line-up of heroes and villains but the Joker is the main villain. He attempts to control Gotham City with a virus that runs all technology.

This is a lighthearted, self-contained superhero movie worth watching if you like Batman and these characters. It’s great fun to see this particular mix of superheroes and other DC characters mesh in an action-packed story with several funny moments. If you prefer your Batman as a grim, psychopathic loner, look elsewhere.

Movie ★★★★☆

Ooh, ooh... I know who that is @ 12:13

DC’s line of animated films have consistently looked outstanding on Blu-ray and Batman Unlimited is no exception. WB presents Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem in its native 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio at 1080P resolution. The 80-minute main feature is encoded in AVC on a BD-25. The video encode averages 17.05 Mbps in pristine fashion. The relatively simple, clean animation style is made to make an impression in Hi-Def and succeeds. The same animation style and character designs were used in the prior Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts.

DC’s animated output is natively rendered in 1080P from a digital master. That enables a perfect digital transfer by WB on Blu-ray that replicates identical video to the original animation files. The quality of Batman Unlimited’s animation generally falls in line with prior DC movies. Character designs could use a little more detail and polish at times, the line-work is occasionally erratic. The two-dimensional animation blends in a few CGI elements, mostly backgrounds. It lacks the sophistication of theatrical animation but is a cut-above on what you see from television animation. A hint of banding in the solid backgrounds is the only thing I can think to criticize since everything else looks so great.

Black levels are perfect and the lively color palette nicely sets off the heroes’ vivid costumes. Most will be very impressed by this gorgeous presentation. Aliasing was once a severe problem on this kind of animation but that problem has long since been eliminated.

Video ★★★★★

The main soundtrack is an excellent 5.1 DTS-HD MA presentation with overpowering bass and active surround activity. It’s a crisp surround experience that constantly engages the entire soundfield. The crystal-clear dialogue has nice balance with the sweeping score.

5.1 Dolby Digital dubs in French and Latino Spanish are included as options. Optional subtitles in English (SDH), French, and Spanish (both Castilian and Latino) are included. They display in a white font.

Audio ★★★★☆

Batman Unlimited receives a decent selection of special features, though lacking somewhat in bonus DC cartoon content compared to prior releases. This combo pack includes an anamorphic DVD version of the film and an UltraViolet digital copy that redeems in HDX. First pressings should include a cardboard slipcover.

Hitting Blu-ray for the first time are a series of rarely seen DC Nation Shorts which aired briefly on Cartoon Network. Most of them run no longer than 80 seconds and originally were shown as funny segues between longer DC cartoon episodes. They were mostly aimed at children.

Gotham of Tomorrow: Designing A Future World Featurette (11:24 in HD) – A fairly in-depth featurette discussing the influences behind Batman Unlimited’s visual design. Writer Heath Corson and the movie’s background designers explain where the film’s unique setting came from. This featurette is primarily meant for adults.

Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode “Mayhem of the Music Meister!” (23:08 in HD) – This was the musical episode from the cartoon series featuring the voice of Neil Patrick Harris.

DC Nation Shorts (Ten in all; HD) – These were all humorous short cartoons intended to expose DC’s less popular characters to a mainstream audience. Lop off 40 seconds from each running time if you don’t want to count the credits.

Shazam!: Courage (01:56 in HD)

Shazam!: Wisdom (01:56 in HD)

Shazam!: Stamina (01:56 in HD)

Green Arrow: Onomatopoeia-Bot (01:54 in HD)

Green Arrow: Brick (01:54 in HD)

Green Arrow: Cupid (01:54 in HD)

Riddler: Riddle Me This (02:00 in HD)

Deadman: Dead Catch (02:06 in HD)

Animal Man: Bank & Train (01:52 in HD)

Animal Man: Beach & City (01:52 in HD)

Teen Titans Go! Trailer (00:34 in HD), Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts Trailer (01:31 in HD), Tom & Jerry: Spy Quest (01:26 in HD)

Extras ★★★☆☆

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.